Walking into Tabla feels like coming home. Bf and I have been friendly with the owners and people who work there for a few years now; it's nice to go in and see familiar faces and be welcomed with genuine enthusiasm. Of course, we get treated extra special.
The 3 Course Prix Fixe dinner is a good deal and includes an appetizer, half pasta and an entree for $29. We upgraded this by including wine pairings. However, we let our server Lia choose our wines so I have no idea what those were, except that we started with a most excellent Prosecco. I like me some bubbly.
There was an amuse, a crostini with blackberry spread and either sheep or goat cheese. Very tasty. I chose the Cucumber & Bell Pepper Salad (local cucumber & bell peppers salad on cucumber puree with sheep milk feta cheese) for my first course. The puree was a little blah on its own but perked up when eaten with the bell peppers in the same bite. Bf chose the Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad (served with creamy lemon vinaigrette, shaved grana padano & spices), which was pretty basic. The creamy vinaigrette was extra garlicky, a plus for us.
Choosing a pasta was the most difficult. Tabla makes all their pastas in-house and they are by far my favorite pasta in town. I have always enjoyed the Tajarin with truffle butter as well as the signature Tabla Ravioli (stuffed with chard, ricotta and a poached egg, finished with poppy seed butter), but this time I spied a new option: Calamari (house made noodles tossed with white wine, cherry tomato & fresh calamari). Beautiful dish, as pictured above. Toothsome calamari rings and tentacles atop a small mess of fresh, wide noodles and cherry tomatoes. I gobbled up every bite and then wished there was bread to soak up the wine sauce. My other half can't get away from the Pappardelle with Rabbit Ragu, but this time he chose the Bison Ragu (house made pasta with bison braised in red wine & fresh thyme finished with crushed chilies).
To me it tasted quite similar to the rabbit ragu, maybe a little meatier. The chilies lent a nice kick.
I zeroed in on the Halibut Cheeks for my entree (pan seared & served over fregola sarda with Spanish chorizo, cilantro & tomatoes) and never looked back.
(Sorry for the cell phone pics.) As you can see from the size of the cheeks, it must have been a big halibut! My line cook bf was quick to inform me that fregola are toasted, hand-rolled semolina pasta from Sardinia. Seared fish are a favorite of mine; my cheeks did not disappoint. The seared crust was buttery and full of good flavor, while the fish was slightly firm and moist. Triangular little chunks of Spanish chorizo added depth when eaten with the smoky, slippery fregola and cilantro. The tomatoes were little cherries bursting with sun-ripened flavor.
Bf went with the Moroccan Peanut Stew (braised lamb, yams & zucchini with grilled flat bread), something I never would have chosen as I'm not big on peanuts or yams. I do, however, love lamb and zucchini enough to venture a bite. Verdict: earthy, spicy, peanutty with a touch of sweetness. A little too peanutty for me, but that's me.
The flat bread was undercooked/doughy in the middle but wasn't bad. Bf and I ended up polishing off my halibut cheeks and boxing up most of his stew (we were full at this point and figured it would keep better than the fish). Ah, but then dessert menues appeared. For once I felt in the mood. I went with the Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta (whipped cream, vanilla bean, amaretto & chocolate cigarettes) and bf got the Staccato Gelato of the day, blackberry mint. The panna cotta was very good although I don't remember much caramel flavor. The gelato tasted of fresh berries, and the mint was a nice accompaniment. Finished off with a shot of espresso and a Kyle's Smoky Martini (scotch instead of vermouth), the night was just fabulous.
Tabla Mediterranean Bistro
200 NE 28th (at Davis)
Portland, OR 97232